This offseason, former Hawkeyes defensive tackle Colin Cole signed a five-year, $21 million contract with the Seattle Seahawks. The guarantee is $5 million. He has been Iowa’s biggest DT during the Kirk Ferentz era and he’s certainly one of the richest.
When Cole arrived from Florida as a freshman, he was quiet and kind of shy. When he left as a senior, he was a strong leader who didn’t say a lot, but I’m guessing when he did speak, teammates listened.
1) Colin Cole (1999-02)
This is from Big Ten media day in 2002. I wonder how many of these homesick stories go the other way. It’s got to be a factor in a lot of transfers. Remember the Andy Staples’ story on SI.com? Recruits don’t go that far away from home. Cole was a long way, physically and culturally.
CHICAGO – The subterranean homesick blues always begin with a girlfriend back home.
“Yes, I had a girlfriend, that’s usually the story, isn’t it?” Iowa defensive lineman Colin Cole said. “And nope, she’s not around now.”
Division I college football is tough enough without trying to juggle one of those arduous long-distance relationships. But Cole beat the blues and passed on an open invitation to transfer closer to his Plantation, Fla., home, eventually paving the way for what has become a bountiful recruiting pipeline for Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz.
Cole and linebacker Fred Barr committed to Iowa in 1998. They were the first two in a steady flow of Florida recruits who have helped the Hawkeyes go from Big Ten doormat to darkhorse.
Going into fall drills, 14 Floridians are on Iowa’s roster. That ties Florida with Illinois as the No. 2 exporter of Hawkeyes. There are 40 Iowans. Texas is third with nine players. Wisconsin is next with six.
“It’d be ideal if you could have every player on your team from your home state,” Ferentz said. “No. 1, you’d know a lot more about those players, and obviously, they’d have a stronger feel for your program.
“But with a population of 2.6 million, it’s unrealistic.”
Starting quarterback Brad Banks is from Belle Glades. He’ll throw to his cousin C.J. Jones, Iowa’s No. 1 wideout and a Boynton Beach native. Fort Lauderdale’s Maurice Brown should be another top target.
On defense, Fort Lauderdale’s Benny Sapp, Iowa’s top cover cornerback, will join Cole and Barr. Linebacker Abdul Hodge (Fort Lauderdale), tackle Fabian Dodd (Lauderhill) and corner Antwan Allen (Tampa) have legitimate shots at playing time.
Iowa has had its share of washouts from Florida, most recently wide receiver Darius Butler, who abruptly transferred to Morris Brown in Atlanta, a Division I-AA school, after thriving during spring practice.
But you can’t argue with the results. Florida has been very, very good to Iowa.
“Look at it this year, starting quarterback, two best receivers, best cornerback, best linebacker, yeah,” said Cole, a 6-foot-2, 307-pound senior. “Iowa should recruit Florida. Iowa should always recruit Florida. Florida has so much talent.”
As long as Ferentz is coach, Iowa will recruit Florida.
“We’ve had more hits than misses, that’s fair to say,” Ferentz said. “Recruiting is an inexact science, like anything, when you’re dealing with people and evaluating people.
“I look at it like New Jersey was for us in the ’80s,” said Ferentz, referring to the numerous New Jersey recruits who helped Iowa to Big Ten prominence. “Typically, if one of the Florida guys is getting recruited by the Big Three (Florida State, Florida and Miami), we move on. But the flipside is there are so many good players in the state it makes sense. They’ll leave the state and come to the Big Ten.”
Much of Iowa’s success in Florida can be traced to former linebackers coach Bret Bielema, who took a job this winter as co-defensive coordinator at Kansas State.
Defensive backs coach Phil Parker and outside linebackers coach Darrell Wilson will double-team Florida, with Wilson concentrating on the northern part of the state.
Ferentz does, however, want to be stronger in the Midwest. Last February, Iowa didn’t land a recruit from Illinois, a traditional hot spot for the Hawkeyes, whose 7-5 season and Alamo Bowl victory should open Midwest doors.
“To me, being strong in the Midwest is a must,” Ferentz said. “But it always seems the less success you have, the better off you are recruiting long distance. Hopefully, now with things improving on the field, we’ll see some improvement.”
Proximity brings comfort. Midwest players aren’t far from home. Also, many of Iowa’s Florida athletes come from predominantly black areas.
“They probably do stand out in some places,” said senior center Bruce Nelson. “As much as we’d like to think we’re diverse in Iowa City, we’re not.”
Cole remembers Thanksgiving break during his freshman year. Iowa had just sludged through a 1-10 season. He saw some limited playing time and was home, finally. And he was this close to staying there.
During the break, a college football-playing friend called one day and said his coach wanted to talk to him. (Cole wouldn’t name names, but did say it was a Division I school.)
“I spoke to (the coach), told him I wasn’t feeling comfortable and all this other stuff,” Cole said. “He told me that if I wanted to contact him about transferring, it’d be OK.”
Iowa coaches sweated it out. They knew another school called, but there wasn’t much they could do. A guidance counselor at South Plantation High School, Cole’s alma mater, and his mom, Rose, talked him out of it.
Going into his senior year, Cole is a solid performer, a leader and a spokesman. Cole and Nelson were Iowa’s player representatives at Friday’s Big Ten Kickoff Luncheon.
Still, it’s not easy living off a few moments on the phone.
“I’m missing my parents. I miss being able to see them, especially during these years,” he said Friday at the Hyatt Regency McCormick Place. “I’m in school. I’m kind of successful on the field. I’d love to have them here. I’d love to have them here right now to see me do this.
“It’s expensive, it’s a plane ride, but they make it out to a lot of games. As for seeing them every day, some of these guys are able to go home on a weekend and stuff like that. I’m not so lucky. I’m so close to my parents. I’d love to see them like that.”
The girlfriend is gone. The phone bills remain.
“It’s not easy to live through the phone, you know?”
The 2002 defense allowed just 68.2 rushing yards a game and 2.2 yards a carry, both school records. Cole was first-team all-Big Ten and c0-MVP of the Iowa defense that season. He’ll begin his sixth official season in the NFL this year. He sort of hung around for two years before latching on with the Packers in 2004.
2) Mitch King (2005-08)
I was lucky to wrangle a one-on-one interview with King in December, just before the Hawkeyes took off for the Outback Bowl.
Here’s the interview in its entirety.
Here are a few snippets:
The ownership King took in his senior year was apparent from week 1. Before the Hawkeyes broke into their pregame stretch and workout against Maine on Aug. 30, King gathered the entire team in the south end zone and spit fire. Or spoke in tongues. Something like that. This went on the entire season and, barring laryngitis, will continue through the Outback Bowl.
“I wanted to be the guy to get everybody pumped up,” he said. “At that point and time, I’m usually pumped up and things. I just wanted to express how important each and every game was.
“A lot of it wasn’t chanting and me hurrah-ing. It was more just me talking and trying to get the guys focused and into understanding what the importance of the game was and what it meant to us as players and us as a program.”
It all looks pretty much 100 mph. What’s going through your mind?
“A lot of things I don’t ever really think about before they come out of my mouth,” he said. “That goes good and bad. Sometimes I don’t really express what I really want to, but the guys on the team understand that I’m pumped up. They understand the gist of it. I don’t really think about it much before it comes out.”
Probably something you can’t rehearse.
“Even if you do, it’s going to change on the whim,” he said. “It’s going to change when you do it. You’ve got to be in the moment.”
Can you remember anything specific?
“I don’t remember the game, but I was pretty much just stuttering,” he said. “Well, not really stuttering, but I’d say things backwards and I’d miss words. I don’t remember the game, but it didn’t come out exactly the way I thought it would.”
Did anyone ask what you were trying to say?
“They all laughed and got excited and got amp’d up because I was so amp’d up.”
King was named Iowa’s defensive MVP last season. He also earned Big Ten defensive lineman of the year from Big Ten coaches. He was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Tennessee Titans.
3) Jonathan Babineaux (2000-04)
Babineaux, now in his fourth season with the Atlanta Falcons, fought through injury problems and eventually became a pillar on what was arguably the best defensive line in Iowa history, the 2004 group of Babineaux, Matt Roth, Tyler Luebke and Derreck Robinson. Babineaux had 20.5 tackles for loss and 11 sacks in ’04, leading or co-leading the Big Ten in both categories.
The Babineaux family is a great story — with or without football (Jonathan’s brother, Jordan, is a defensive back for the Seahawks).
Here’s an excerpt from a 2004 story:
IOWA CITY – Sometimes the celebrations are more than chest thumps and high fives.
Sometimes they mean something.
When Jonathan Babineaux makes a play on the field, a sack or tackle for loss, he looks up to the heavens and points. And, no, it’s not a “hey, look at me” move.
He happens to have a crowd up there.
Way before Jonathan Babineaux was a 6-foot-2, 280-pound senior defensive lineman for the Iowa Hawkeyes, he was a third grader growing up without a dad in Port Arthur, Texas, an oil town on the edge of the Gulf of Mexico.
Joseph Babineaux went to the doctor’s office one day in the late 1980s. He leaned on a rail near a concourse. The rail broke, and he fell two stories to his death.
Five kids were suddenly and shockingly without a dad.
“That was way back when,” said Jonathan Babineaux, a quiet, thoughtful 23-year-old. “I was probably third grade, 7 or 8 years old. “I really don’t remember too much. I just remember what happened and what went on after that.”
Babineaux’s mom, Barbara, worked to make ends meet for the five Babineaux children, all with the initials J.B., just like their dad. The kids’ grandfather would spend a lot of days sitting with them while their mom was still at work.
“It was pretty much like that all the way through,” Jonathan said. “It was hard, having just one parent trying to take care of five of us. Most of the time, she
wouldn’t be there. She’d have to work.
“When I was in elementary, she got a different job and things started to get a little better as the years went on.”
Babineaux said his mom is now a lab secretary at Huntsman Petrochemical Corp. He was asked what he took away from knowing how hard his mom worked to support the family.
“You see a goal, just to work as hard as you can for your family and always be there to support them,” he said.
The Babineauxes sued the medical company and the company that built the railing. That money helped them get through college.
“When everybody turned 18, we all got a large amount of money,” Babineaux said.
Move the story along to 2004.
Barbara Babineaux is the proud mom of five college graduates.
Jean and Josh graduated from Xavier University (Louisiana). Jeff graduated from Wiley College (Marshall, Texas). Jordan graduated from Southern Arkansas and is a defensive back on the Seattle Seahawks’ practice squad.
Jordan is the youngest at 22. Jeff is the oldest at 27.
Check that, Barbara Babineaux will be the proud mom of five college graduates. Jonathan needs one more class next semester before he graduates with a degree in African-American studies and a minor in sports leisure.
Honorable mention: Jared Clauss. Lots of great candidates here, with Matt Kroul and Tyler Luebke in the running, but I went with Clauss, who put up nine career sacks and played two seasons with the Tennessee Titans.